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The fifth and final residence of Ignatius in Rome
On the corner of the block where Via d'Ara Coeli meets Via di San Marco (100 meters south of the church), Father Codacio built the house where Ignatius went to live in 1544. Prince Fabricio Massimi called Ignatius' fifth and final residence in Rome, "a dumpy house, rather like a shack."
The thick plastered walls were haphazardly constructed of dressed and rough stone intermixed with brick; low beam and plank ceilings of unfinished oak and ash; floors of yellow, unglazed tile. Originally, the residence housed 30 Jesuits, but it was continually expanded so that by 1556, when Ignatius died, approximately 80 Jesuits lived in several connecting wings, floors and adjoining houses. The rooms of Ignatius were the top floor of the residence.
From this simple house Ignatius governed the world-wide society, sending out over 7,000 letters on topics ranging from spiritual experience to real estate needed for new colleges and churches. Here Ignatius also wrote the second Formula of the Institute (1550) and composed the Constitutions (1549-1553).
Here Ignatius died, and his companions gathered to elect the second superior general.
"In the same room where God our Lord called our Father Ignatius from temporal life to eternal" his immediate successor Diego Lainez was elected General on July 2, 1558. The choice of place expressed the feelings and prayers of the bereaved Society: "because all wished the Divine Goodness to give them a successor similar to him (Father Ignatius)."
The "Casa Professa"
The current Gesu Residence was constructed between 1599-1602 and encompassed the entire block bounded by the church, Via degli Astalli, Via S. Marco and Via d'Ara Coeli. It had rooms for 145 residents and served as the "Curia Generalis" or international headquarters of the Society of Jesus until the Society was suppressed in 1773; and then from the restoration in 1814 until the risorgimento of 1873. It now houses two communities: an international community of Jesuits studying theology and a community of the Italian Province.
The original rooms of Ignatius are shown in white in the side view above. The Pozzo coridor is to their right. The Casa Professa of 1599 encased the rooms that had originally been the top floor of the original Jesuit residence in Rome.
This "new residence" replaced the small house of 1544 after a severe flood in 1598 damaged its foundations. Jesuits realized the historical significance of the four rooms where Ignatius had written the Constitutions and the thousands of letters he sent to Jesuits around the world, where the first General Congregation was held, and where Ignatius died. To preserve Ignatius' apartment, builders used large pillars to support the rooms and then encased them within the much larger new building.
The rooms were renovated in 1990 for the 500th Anniversary of the birth of St. Ignatius and are open to the public. In addition to the rooms themselves, a permanent exhibit and the famous corridor painted by Jesuit artist Andrea Pozzo witness to the devotion in which Ignatius continues to be held.
Some historical vignettes:
--Ignatius frequently celebrated Mass in the church of Our Lady of the Wayside. On September 4, 1549, he received the vows of profession of Peter Canisius. In this moment Canisius felt that the Holy Spirit would come upon the vowed Jesuit as He came down upon the Apostles at Pentecost. "Thus," he added, "I think it was said to me more than once (for all of us) 'Behold I send you in the midst of wolves. Go preach the gospel to all creation.'" (Confessiones).
-- When Ignatius was elected General, he began to teach catechism in Our Lady of the Way church. Pedro de Ribadeneira, then 14 years of age, called his attention to how badly he spoke Italian. Ignatius asked him to take notes on his mistakes. But the youngster soon grew weary; he saw that "it was necessary to correct the whole manner of speaking, because either the word he used or the structure or the pronunciation was Spanish." Whatever the mistakes, Ribadeneira recalled, the holy man spoke with such fervor and with face so lit up that flames seemed to come forth and set hearts afire.
-- In Our Lady of the Way church were held in October and November of 1553 the solemn "Conclusions" (or lecture-discussions) on theology and philosophy that preceded the inauguration of the Roman College's program of higher education.
-- Sept. 14, 1554 had been set as departure date of the Jesuit missionaries to Ethiopia -- Bishops Andres de Oviedo and Melchior Carneiro, and other fathers and brothers. Ignatius had them get ready -- long cloaks, spurs on their feet, their mounts lined up on the piazza. Then he asked if they were missing anything.
"No," they answered.
"Well, then," he said to the men he could not hope to see again on earth, "since you have no further preparations to make, let us take this afternoon and all tomorrow for a good and proper leave taking of one another."
-- "The method he observed when writing the Constitutions was to say Mass each day and present to God the point he was then treating, and to spend his period of prayer on this topic; and it was always with tears in his eyes that he made this prayer and said Mass" (Autobiography)
-- Father Goncalves da Camara left an invaluable description of Ignatius' life of prayer in his rooms during the final years of his life. He rose and said the prayers which served as commutation for the Breviary-- a commutation given because the flow of tears during the recitation of the office affected his eyesight. "Then he went into the chapel next to his bedroom to hear Mass on those days on which he did not say it.
After Mass, he remained in silent prayer for two hours. And, lest he be disturbed, he gave orders that all messages that came to the porter's lodge for him should be given instead to me, Father Minister. Some of these messages, because of their urgency or because of the persons who deserved an immediate response, I had to take to him in the chapel. I recall that every time I had to do so, and there were many times, I found him with countenance so radiant that, going along with my attention and imagination absorbed in the message, when I saw him, I stood there astonished, beside myself. For his face was not like that I have seen in many devout persons at prayer, but rather it seemed clearly celestial and most extraordinary."
--During the night before Ignatius died, Brother Canizaro who attended him heard him sigh: "Oh, my God."
"At sunrise," Polanco, his secretary, recorded, "we found Father in his last agony. So with haste I went to St. Peter's, to the Pope (Paul IV), who showed himself much grieved, and gave his benediction and all he was empowered to grant, affectionately. And so almost two hours after sunrise (that is, about 7 a.m.), in the presence of Father Christopher de Madrid end Master Andre des Freux, (Father Ignatius) gave his soul to his Creator and Lord without any struggle."